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Woodward Dream Cruise canceled for first time

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 30, 2020

 Cruise fans flock to a past event on Nine Mile Road.

Cruise fans flock to a past event on Nine Mile Road.

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BIRMINGHAM — For months, residents have suspected, city leaders have hoped and health experts have pleaded.

And as of just last week it’s official: The 26th annual Woodward Dream Cruise has been canceled due to COVID-19.

The board of the Woodward Dream Cruise voted June 30 to scrap the massive event planned for Saturday, Aug. 15. 

According to Michael Lary, the president of the WDC board, there were a lot of things factored into the tough decision to hit the brakes. 

“If you backtrack to April, the board made the decision to cancel all the community events — or what I call the ‘bells and whistles’ — to do what we could to significantly reduce the audience that comes out to the Dream Cruise,” Lary said. “And then elected officials had decided (the virus) warranted concerns, and some communities felt we needed to do more than just cancel events. Without much going on as far as the car shows, the entertainment, the festivals, there won’t be much taking place this year other than enjoying the cruisers cruising Woodward. We’re hoping that will be the discouragement to come out to Woodward.”

In May, Birmingham joined Ferndale and Huntington Woods in passing a resolution asking organizers to cancel the event that would draw hundreds of thousands of guests from around the world to Woodward Avenue for the classic car event. The Birmingham City Commission cited a potential public health risk for why they promoted canceling the event. 

“Attracting over a million people to an event during a worldwide pandemic is the reality we face. Ensuring the public’s safety is our No. 1 priority,” City Manager Joe Valentine said in an email, noting that the commission’s resolution means also scratching the city’s annual car show on Old Woodward Avenue, which draws hundreds of classic cars each year, as well as big crowds to enjoy those vehicles and several big-name corporate displays and entertainment stages that adjoin the show.

 “We realize Woodward is a public highway and people may still want to come out locally, but by promoting the cancelation now we want everyone to know there will be no official activities, no special-event permits issued, no tents allowed on curb sides, no special parking for cruisers and no concession stands. This is intended to discourage those who normally travel from out of town to attend this event. We can look forward to next year, when we, hopefully, have a safer environment.”

Even though municipalities voiced their objections to hosting a cruise this year early on during the COVID-19 crisis, Lary said the board waited until late June — less than two months before the event — to bring down the ax. 

“We had to sort through all of these legal issues with our brand, like trademarking and bootlegging, and we had to get a better understanding of what goes into all that, because we’ve never had any of these concerns in the past 25 years,” Lary explained. “And there are a lot of nonprofits that typically fundraise during the Dream Cruise and sell the official merchandise and (bring in revenue) off that, and now that’s not going to happen. There will be a huge amount of damage to a lot of organizations and businesses because of COVID-19, and it will continue to do that. We just hope normalcy will come and bring a cure or a vaccine.”

Hopefully, he added, loyal cruisers will be content knowing that the WDC board has no plans to slow down over the summer. It plans to come back with a cruise event in 2021 that’s “the biggest and best yet.”

However, there is the chance, of course, that metro Detroit motor heads won’t accept a year without a Dream Cruise, that they’ll head out to M-1 anyway. 

In fact, according to Cmdr. Scott Grewe of the Birmingham Police Department, that was the case even back in April. He said that while the state was still on a government-ordered lockdown, police had to break up congregants on Woodward meeting in groups without adequate social distancing. 

“It seems as soon as the sun is out, we just get a higher volume of that,” Grewe said in an earlier interview, referring to car spectators. “But now it’s (exacerbated) because of ‘Stay home, stay safe.’ People have been cooped up too long and they’re looking for an opportunity to get out.”

Valentine acknowledged the likelihood that revelers will still hit M-1 on the former cruise date, as did Lary. But they agreed that any steps they can take to reduce crowds and make it easier to stay at least 6 feet away from others is in the public’s best interest. 

“We had a lot of things to vet out when you officially cancel an event like this, and there was an enormous amount of conversation about people still coming out to cruise, but we decided the ultimate goal is to get the message to the public to stay home and stay safe and, if they do come out, conveying the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.” 

Call Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at (586) 498-1095.

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